From My Mother's Basement…

It’s Okay, Boys Can Be Pretty Too! February 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — a ryan j @ 8:10 am

Well today we were three for three. The lady at my prenatal appointment told me that “there were a whole bunch of toys she could play with just around the corner”; in the afternoon, the plumber who came into our home to work on our water heater made a comment about “having her already using those computers, huh?”; and later, in the checkout line at the grocery store, the man behind us remarked that “boy she sure is a busy helper, isn’t she?” They were all talking about my 2 year old son, and I don’t think it would surprise most to find this has been a daily occurrence for us, frankly, since the day he was born.

Yes, I have been blessed with a very beautiful, very pretty son. He was born with a full head of curly blonde hair, and at two years old, we have still yet to give him a haircut. I never expected to have a two year old boy with long golden locks; but they are gorgeous, and with both of his parents being dark brunettes, the circumstance is most assuredly a limited engagement. We figure one of three things will eventually happen: 1) he will ask for it to be cut 2) he will get something stuck in it that we will have to cut out i.e. gum or a sucker or 3) he will make acquaintance with a pair of scissors and do the deed himself. One of those scenarios is bound to come to fruition sooner or later; and when it does, we will be fine with it, seriously!

Anyone who knows my son will attest to the fact that he loves his hair! It gets him attention, and compliments, and he knows and loves that. He even has his own ‘hair moves’. Clearly he has not yet tuned into the gender bias that his hair triggers and generates in and amongst society. And if it truly bothered us (or especially him), I am sure we wouldn’t have let it go on as long as it has…well, here I come to my need to make a point of clarification:

My son’s long hair certainly doesn’t bother me. People being so taken in by my son’s beauty that they feel the need to approach me and verbally remark on his level of attractiveness obviously doesn’t bother me! I also know that although his hair isn’t the sole generator of these kind remarks, it does provide a significant contribution; and therefore, it makes it quite easy to forgive the fact these constant compliments are consistently paired with mis-gender identification – these people clearly mean well by what they are saying. But over time, as his hair grows longer, and as he becomes more boy-engendered (of his own accord), what does begin to surprise both me and his father is the ever-increasingly high level of consistency with which ‘he’ is identified by the general populous as being a ‘she’!

Situationally, we even go back and forth on whether we bother correcting people or not because frankly, it really is a bother. They then feel bad and try to make excuses; we find ourselves trying to back up their excuses; a well meant compliment quickly turns into an awkward situation for both parties. Passersby, we certainly don’t correct; for a more lengthy encounter with a repeat offender of gender mis-identification, I’ve come to recognize myself making sub-consciously calculated maneuvers – calling him to me using his very male oriented name, Preston, following up by saying ‘hey buddy’ or ‘come here my little guy’ – any opportunity I can create to clue them into to correcting themselves, so that I in turn don’t have to.

Of course I always have the voice of my grandfather’s generation echoing in my head: “Well what do you expect people to call him? He’s got long hair just like a girl!” And of course we don’t expect anything. ‘Our son’s hair’ is not politically motivated, we’re not actively trying to ‘rock society’s boat’, nor was this some sort of calculated decision; it is honestly a case of inaction more than anything else. We love his hair, we think it is gorgeous, therefore we simply haven’t gotten around to doing anything to change the way it is naturally. Now as time and ‘the hair situation’ progresses, the individualist in me must admit that cutting his hair solely for the sake and comfort of the same society that compliments it so, does seem like the greater sin.

My first job out of high school was at a Claire’s Boutique, where day after day I would have new mothers bring their baby daughters in to get their ears pierced. Two words of caution out there to all of the mothers who do/plan to/ or have done this: 1) in no way are ‘we’ (the minimum wage workers of said mall franchises) highly trained ear-piercing specialists and 2) it is incredibly difficult for even the most well-intentioned person to successfully get two evenly-placed earrings punched into a screaming baby’s tiny tiny earlobes. I was seventeen years old that summer; and honestly, this surprisingly common situation made me very uncomfortable – piercing holes in your child’s body that they did not ask for. And on several occasions I knew these precious little people would not grow up satisfied with the job I had done, as my inevitable lack in precision would clearly reveal itself over the years, through their lobes’ continued and almost guaranteed to be uneven growth. Personally I would rather see you stick a bow on top of their head if it bothers you so…but I was also raised in the mountains of Wyoming, wherein echo the mantras ‘live and let live’ and ‘to each their own’, words I sincerely strive to preach and practice daily.

During much of Preston’s second year, we were living in England without a stroller. His father would carry him around in an Ergo (a baby-wearing devise that essentially straps the baby to either your chest or back), and it was easy to excuse people’s indiscretions as the Ergo covered most of his clothing, leaving the common citizenry with only his hair on which to judge him by.  Now, I must also interject here the parallel fact that we never gave much care or concern to whether or not his clothes carried significant masculine gender association, should people have been able to see what it was that he was wearing.  But as he began to walk and run, and move out of the baby-carrier and onto society’s streets, sidewalks, and grocery aisles, his hair has continued to grow, as has his male-gendered identity association.

Today, this is how my two year old son looked:


By his choice he was wearing blue cargo sweats, a blue striped t-shirt with a robot screen printed on the front, black and red light-up Lightening McQueen shoes – and he insisted on proudly carrying around his Thomas the Train toy as a companion throughout our day’s adventures.

So although we’ve never expected any certain reaction from society, I must admit our increasingly developed surprise at society’s seemingly inability to identify our child as a boy. Now in no way am I suggesting that not one member society can correctly tell that he is a ‘he’; but we consistently have received daily comments, remarks, and compliments on our child’s looks and/or personality; and after 27 months, I can honestly affirm that currently 90% of the positive feedback we receive about our son (the same one pictured on the left) is verbally linked to the feminine pronouns ‘she’ or ‘her’. This has been proven consistent across age, gender, class, race, and level of exposure to children in general.

Yesterday, another classic demonstration of this was displayed. Preston and I were in one checkout line, when a woman from another checkout line rolled her cart passed us, stopped, turned around and then said “sorry to bother you, but I have to say that is just the most beautiful child I have ever seen”. “Well, thank you,” I tried to humbly accept, “we sure feel pretty lucky to have him”. “And that’s a him,” she exclaimed?! “With that hair? Why I never…” she trailed off. I of course jumped in with a typical “I know, it’s just so beautiful we can’t be bothered to cut it”. “Oh my”, she nervously chortled as she quickly yet indulgently gave her fingers a quick once-through my child’s golden curls and then uttered the loaded Southern expression “well, bless”, before strolling her cart along its merry little way. (Here I would like to pause and interject that in this situation, my son was sporting head-to-toe red and black Lightning McQueen garb from his t-shirt down to the shoes and had chosen for that day’s companion his toy car Francesco, one of the characters featured in Pixar’s animation Cars 2.)

This phenomenon inspires within me a need to write some children’s book or something (but directed at adults, especially ones raising children) called Boys Can Be Pretty Too, a not so gentle reminder, or wakeup call if you will, to our current society of just how fickle and impermanent societies’ historical notions of beauty are. Throughout the whole of the animal kingdom (the natural order), and from King Louis’ France to Elizabethan England, the male species has more often than not used his beauty to draw attention and admiration to himself, proudly enlisting trappings and embellishments to help him attract the approval and praise of society’s members, much like my son’s hair very successfully does for him at this current juncture in his life.

My son is not classically handsome or dashing, he is stereotypically pretty and beautiful; he is gorgeous, and I whole-heartedly agree with the general passersby’s assessments on that front! But why then, in this century (as well as the last), is there a palpable social anxiety over assigning those adjectives to anything other than the feminine? Furthermore, what is up with the duality of a society confident enough to consistently verbally remark on the beauty of others – who has it, and who does not, yet at the same time be so closeted, conservative, and limited in its views of which gender can possess which qualifiers for attraction? I don’t know the answer to any of these question, but once again, must express sincere gratitude for living in a society that provokes me to think deeply about the current collective consciousness that its critiques reflect.

Ironically, my hair has been a controversial and distracting centerpiece of social discussion throughout the bulk of my life – from the battles growing up with my mother over keeping it long, to my defending its boyish shortness over the last seven years, to the superficial controversies my not cutting it for the last year has mustered amongst those closest to me…and how ironic that my son does indeed have ‘my hair’. All the while it seeming to be constantly complimented while as the same time consistently criticized, it is after all just hair…is it not? And what is hair? A trapping, an embellishment, a once alive yet now dead extension of yourself, one that you either do or do not carry around in some fluctuating quantity, yet it IS constantly defining who you are; and in many ways, in societies eyes, it is the foundation for their definition of your association with and assessment of beauty. How bizarre…
And on that note, I believe this may be about all I have to say on this matter…at least for now, anyhow.
Through this reflective diatribe one thing, to me, has become very clear: we are indeed a very hair-centered society.

Oh yeah, and please remember that: It’s Okay, Boys Can Be Pretty Too 🙂


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